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As Agriprocessors sinks deeper, elected officials react to Rubashkin arrest
Nearly six months after federal authorities swarmed the small town of Postville and detained roughly half of a kosher meatpacking plant’s workforce on suspected immigration violations, shock waves are still being felt throughout Iowa and the nation.
This week, former Agriprocessors executive officer Sholom M. Rubashkin, son of company founder A. Aaron Rubashkin, was arrested by federal authorities and will begin his own legal proceedings amid identity theft and immigration-related allegations. Within hours of Rubashkin’s arrest a financial institution cried foul on company management, claiming a $35 million loan was in default. Then more than 400 workers, brought into Postville by a staffing agency, learned that they were no longer working at the plant.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver looked beyond the immediate and past news headlines to the lesson he hopes all state employers have learned from Postville.
“As Governor, I’ve worked hard to attract, retain and grow businesses, both large and small, across the state, including the creation of thousands of new ‘green jobs’ in Iowa,” Culver told the Iowa Independent. “At the same time, I expect every Iowa business to follow the law when it comes to the hiring and treatment of their employees.
“I have been concerned about the practices of Agriprocessors, not only as a result of federal raids earlier this year but because of state sanctions the company has faced on issues ranging from the health and safety of workers to their impact on water quality. No company is above the law. But if any thinks that they are, they will be held accountable.”
James Carstensen, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), said the action taken by federal authorities reinforces Latham’s “strong belief that no person is above the laws of our country.”
“If someone is found to have violated the law,” said Carstensen, “they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) also expressed his appreciation that there would be consequences for members of Agriprocessors management if they are found guilty of usurping the law.
“I’m glad to see that investigations into Agriprocessors are continuing and that federal charges were filed today,” Braley said. “We must enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees, and today’s charges are a significant step towards holding key management employees at Agriprocessors accountable. There should be consequences for those who broke the law, and I hope today’s charges will bring us one step closer to justice.”
Plant Future Even More Tenuous
Although it has hardly been a secret that Agriprocessors has had difficulty meeting financial obligations since the immigration raid, the plant’s immediate financial situation has further degraded since Rubashkin’s arrest in Postville Thursday morning.
On Friday U.S. District Judge Linda Reade provided a St. Louis liquidation firm a certain amount of interest in Agriprocessors’ Postville plant and a smaller, but similar kosher meatpacking operation in Gordon, Neb. Reade deemed the move necessary due to dire circumstances regarding the operation’s existing stock and livestock and a pending lawsuit by First Bank Business Capital, a bank that had loaned the company at least $35 million. In court documents filed Thursday, the bank contends that Agriprocessors is in default on the loan and that it should be allowed to sell any existing collateral.
The ruling by Reade allows Atec Liquidations to maintain conditions — such as keeping electrical power in the plant — so that any existing meat stores can be preserved and so that a possible million chickens and chicks can be fed.
It is unclear how the pending lawsuit by the bank will immediately affect the plant, although more will be known after a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. It is also unclear how the court will handle this suit in relation to the earlier suit filed by a Kansas City-based design firm for non-payment of invoices shortly after after the raid.
What is very clear is that the Postville plant, which has never been able to re-establish a stable workforce since the raid, is now in an even deeper hole. Jacobson Staffing, an employment agency that has effectively been serving as a human resources department for Agriprocessors since the raid, pulled all of its workers from the plant. Roughly 450 employees were formally notified this week that they should no longer report to work at Agriprocessors. An official with Jacobson would only cite a “communication breakdown” as a reason for the decision.
Just as First Bank Business Capital is not the first to bring a lawsuit for non-payment against Agriprocessors and its management, Jacobson is not the first staffing company to pull workers from the Postville facility. Waterloo-based Labor Ready pulled temporary workers from the plant in early summer after its employees had worked roughly 10 days. Labor Ready cited safety concerns.
Agriprocessors had also been using the staffing agency One Force to identify potential workers. It is unknown if One Force has kept a relationship with the plant, but on Saturday morning the company maintained online employment advertisements for the Postville facility.
The plant’s beef line ceased production either Sunday or Monday of this week, although poultry kills continued on some level. On Wednesday, sources in Postville reported seeing trucks load roughly 250 cattle that had been held in an outdoor pen and drive away from the plant. In the week prior, inspectors from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered a cow skull, hide and two dismembered legs in the plant’s wastewater lagoon. Management was not cited for a violation because, according to an Iowa DNR spokesman, “it was not standard operating procedure but did not pose a significant environmental risk.”
Since the May 12 immigration raid Agriprocessors has:
- been fined $47,750 by the Iowa Division of Labor Services for numerous health and safety violations.
- had two middle-management supervisors arrested by federal authorities (both later pleaded guilty) for encouraging illegal immigration.
- hired a high-profile, New York-based public relations firm that was caught impersonating members of the Jewish community.
- been the subject of an informal hearing by members of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
- said tentative relationship with Jewish labor force is “off limits.”
- been cited by the Iowa Division of Labor Services for 31 new and repeat safety violations.
- come under additional scrutiny for treatment of livestock.
- been charged by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office with more than 9,000 violations of state child labor laws.
- had two human resources employees arrested by federal authorities on immigration-related criminal charges. (One has pleaded guilty while the other awaits trial.)
- has been assessed nearly $10 million in civil penalties by the state of Iowa for wage law violations.